William Rivers Pitt: Dean Was Right
Dean Was Right
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Saturday 11 June 2005
"I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth."
-- Revelation 3:15-16
If the leadership qualities of those in charge of the national Democratic Party could be squeezed into a shampoo bottle, the directions on the back of the bottle might read something like this: “Make tentative statement. Offer equivocation to avoid appearing adamant. Scramble for cover when colleague offers stinging critique of opposition. Stab colleague in back in public. Palpitate and fret, hem and haw. Lather, rinse, repeat.”
Quite a recipe for success, yes? Not lately.
For the last several years, the Democratic Party has been, for the most part, leaving skid marks on the street as they have retreated from confrontation after confrontation with the radicals who now control the Republican party. This retreat has gone from the ridiculous to the sublime to the utterly outrageous.
Here and there resistance has been put forth - on the Social Security issue, on the stem cell legislation, on the nomination of Bolton as UN ambassador - but all too often the most effective resistance to these and other disastrous policy initiatives has come from other Republicans, and not from the Democrats. It was the eloquence of Republican Senator Voinovich that threw sand in the gears of the Bolton nomination, and it was Republican Senator Specter’s promised override of any Bush veto of the stem cell legislation that has made that issue a problem for the White House.
And then along comes Howard Dean, chairman of the DNC, outspoken and uncompromising, swinging Willie Stark’s meat ax with a will and a purpose. He dared to say that he hates Republicans, that the leadership of that party hasn’t worked a day in their lives, that the GOP has become a radical hothouse of right-wing Christians, almost all of whom are white, and that House majority leader Tom DeLay should go back to Texas and get his looming prison sentence over with. Insert palpitations. Suddenly, Democrats like Joe Biden and Bill Richardson start knocking over furniture and old ladies in their rush to get to a microphone so they can distance themselves from the wild man.
Yes, yes, lather and rinse and repeat. The problem with all the equivocation is that it obscures a simple fact that requires exposure and discussion in this country: Dean was right. Ninety nine percent of Republicans in the state legislatures in all 50 states, and in Congress in Washington DC, are white. Even in states and districts with large minority populations, the Republican representatives for those places are almost uniformly white Christians.
Of 3,643 Republicans serving in state legislatures across the country, only 44 of them are minorities, amounting to 1.2%. Texas, with a minority population of 47%, has 106 Republicans in the state legislature. There are exactly zero African Americans and exactly zero Hispanics serving in that body as Republicans. In Washington, 274 of the 535 elected Senators and Representatives are Republican. Exactly five are minorities.
Of course, there are ethnic and religious minorities within the rank and file of the GOP, but every demographic analysis of the party’s makeup clearly shows the vast majority of Republicans fit exactly into the description offered by Mr. Dean. His point, by the way, was not that white Christians are bad people. His point was that, in this pluralist society made up of so much diversity, the Republican Party does not represent the true face of this country. He was also pointing out that the GOP has been taken over by that small, radical minority of white Christians who believe separation of church and state is evil, and who believe Biblical law is a better tool of governance than that pesky Constitution.
As for hating Republicans, the employment record of the GOP leadership, and DeLay’s date with a Houston cellblock, there is method to the supposed madness here. Those who question the wisdom of Dean firing broadsides like this look to the old lawyer’s maxim: When you have the law on your side, pound on the law, and when you have the facts on your side, pound on the facts, and when you have neither the law nor the facts on your side, pound on the table. On so many issues facing us today, Dean and the Democrats have both the facts and the law on their side. The question becomes, then, about why Dean is pounding on the table.
The answer is straightforward, and appropriately bold after several years of ineffective limp-noodle Democratic leadership. Every time Dean fires off one of his salvos, reporters flip open their notebooks. Headlines get made, discussion begins, and a whole lot of people start debating the facts and merits of his statements. Is the Republican leadership run by right-wing yahoos? Is DeLay going to jail? Controversy begets press. Dean can see, as well as anyone else, how effective the moderate, soft-touch, treading-lightly approach has been working lately for the Democrats.
But how are we going to win those white Christian middle-America voters to our side by having Dean basically call them out? asks the ruffled Democratic leadership. The answer to this lies at the heart of what the Democratic party has been failing at for a while now. The voters who are supposedly going to be alienated by this kind of talk are the very same voters who look for guts, strength and straight talk from the leadership of this country. All too often, Democratic leaders come off sounding like they are saying seven things at once, leaving the impression that their spines are somewhat slippery. Boldness, on the other hand, begets confidence, even in disagreement.
These Dean statements also, coincidentally, whip the Democratic base into a roaring frenzy as they hear an actual Democratic leader speak their beliefs out loud and in public. One of the things Dean is working on every day is to redirect DNC fundraising away from the big-dollar donors who give equally to both parties in order to hedge their bets. Dependence on this breed of donor causes the party to crab towards the middle and avoid anything resembling true opposition.
Dean wants DNC fundraising efforts to be focused on the common citizen, the Democratic activist who has been screaming at the party to say what must be said, and Dean’s inflammatory statements spark the kind of donation avalanche that turned his Presidential campaign into a financial juggernaut. He may have lost in the end, but the manner in which he raised campaign money changed the face of electoral politics. He is porting those lessons into national DNC fundraising efforts, and statements like these go a long way towards making those efforts wildly successful.
Memo to Dean: Keep doing what you are doing. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Pitt is the senior editor and lead writer for truthout.
He is a New York Times and international bestselling author
of two books - 'War
on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know' and
Greatest Sedition is Silence.' Join the discussions at